Sunday, February 22, 2015

Christ can live in you

In my estimation, St Mark's Gospel is beautiful for what I like to call its fierce brevity. Our Gospel for this First Sunday of Lent, which tells us about when Jesus emerged from the wilderness after spending 40 days fasting and praying, all the while being tempted by Satan, as well as being ministered to by angels, is one of my favorite Gospel passages.

Jesus came to usher in the reign of God, the kingdom of God. Of course, the kingdom will not be realized in full until His return in glory. In the meantime, Jesus' disciples, whom Dallas Willard helpfully designates "apprentices," are to be about the work of establishing God's reign, which is not only not of this world, but stands in stark contrast and even contradiction to it. Bringing about God's kingdom, being small pockets where God reigns supreme, is really what the Church, the ekklesia, the assembly, exists to do/be.

The beginning of the kingdom, which is within us, is repentance. I think it's important to note that, according to Jesus, repenting comes before believing. Very often we think believing precedes repenting, but this is to reduce faith, pistis (the word translated in this passage as "believe"- which, I think, is a very weak translation) merely to intellectual assent to a proposition or proposal. As we saw a few Sundays ago (see "If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts"), even the demons believe that Jesus is Lord.

The Greek word used in this passage for "repent" is a variant of the word metanoia. Metanoia is a call to literally turn around, to have a change of mind, a call to convert. It's easy to lose sight of the ordinary way words are employed theologically; to convert simply means to change from one thing into something else, as in "She converted a trash can into a lovely planter in which she now grows flowers." Hence, the call to those would heed Jesus is to be transformed, converted, not into something, or someone, else, but precisely into who God created and redeemed you to be.

We call the process of conversion "sanctification," being made holy, which is the vocation of all the baptized. It is significant to note that, in addition to the older and more familiar "Remember you are dust..." formula, the other statement the Roman Missal gives us for the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday, which is right out of today's Gospel, is- "Repent, and believe in the Gospel."

As for the word "believe" in our passage today, it is, as alluded to above, a weak translation of a variant of the Greek word pistis. In koine Greek pistis is to gnosis what faith is to knowledge in English (the two are not opposed, but complement each other). Pistis means being persuaded and, as a result, coming to trust. This happens through experience, which is why repenting precedes believing. As used in non-scriptural ancient Greek texts, pistis referred to a guarantee, or a warranty. So, generally-speaking, when used in Scripture, pistis (i.e., faith/believing) is God's warranty, or guarantee, which we can only trust by experiencing it for ourselves first-hand. Jesus is God's guarantee. Hence, Jesus' call to repent is a call to trust Him when He says, "This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe [this] good news."

In the first volume of his trilogy on Jesus, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI noted that Jesus is "called autobasileia, that is, the Kingdom in person. Jesus himself is the Kingdom; the Kingdom is not a thing, it is not a geographical dominion like worldly kingdoms. It is a person; it is he" (49). In this dimension "Jesus leads men to realize the overwhelming fact that in him God himself is present among them, that he is God's presence" (49). Of course, after His death, resurrection, and ascension Christ sent the Holy Spirit, which, as Luke Timothy Johnson, in his book Living Jesus: Learning the Heart of the Gospel, pointed out, "is the mode of Jesus' resurrection presence to the world" (15).

In his song "Live This Mystery," Michael Card sang, "The mystery of life in Christ/Is Christ can live in you." Christ can live in you by the power of the Holy Spirit, which is why the kingdom of God is within. Everything hinges on your inner transformation, your repentance, you conversion, which is Christ's work, done by the power of the Holy Spirit. Christ's work is your work, if you are His disciple, His apprentice. As a result, this work, which is designed to lead you to the Cross and beyond so that you may take hold of the life that is truly life (1 Tim 6:19), requires your full, active, and conscious participation .

Hearkening back to our first reading, Jesus did not come merely to usher in the "new and everlasting covenant" between us and God. Jesus is the new and everlasting covenant between us and God, as we concretely experience each time we receive Him in the Eucharist.

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